"The demand for travel on the Allegro trains is a good example of how international passenger train service can develop," Analytical Center expert Alexey Safronov said in an interview to the Gudok newspaper.
Passengers are concerned about speed and fairs
"Speaking of international passenger rail service, we have to distinguish between two categories of service here: there are trains that run between Russia and countries outside the former USSR, and trains that run between Russia, the CIS, and the Baltic states. This distinction is important because there are significant differences in the trends we are seeing in these two categories of international passenger train service," the expert said.
To begin with, the number of passengers traveling by train to countries outside the former USSR is about ten times less. It is easy to see why, given that for travel distances in excess of 1000 km people normally choose air travel. At the moment, the niche that long distance trains occupy is 500 to1000 km.
"Long distance train travel to countries outside the former USSR increased gradually until 2013, then declined somewhat in 2014-2015, and then picked up again in 2016. In 2016, a total of 641,000 people were carried, which is somewhat less than in 2014, but on the whole comparable to that year's figure," Mr. Safronov said. In his opinion, the decline in passenger travel was not due to the Federal Passenger Company's services deteriorating, but rather because of the Ukrainian crisis.
"The effect was even greater in the CIS. Passenger train travel between Russia, the Baltic States and the CIS were declining slowly in 2010-2013, the number of passengers leaving Russia by train to destinations in the former USSR fell from 19.5 million to 18.3 million between 2010 and 2013, and then it collapsed. In 2014, only 10 million people were carried by train within the former USSR and less than 7 million in 2015. The Federal Passenger Company has not yet published its statistics for 2016," the expert summed up.
So, if we want to talk about ways to boost the number of international train passengers, we need to realize that there are a lot of problems that Federal Passenger Company simply has no control over, Mr. Safronov believes.
In addition to political conflicts, the deprecation of the ruble and the plummeting of the real household income have also made their contribution to the decline in passenger traffic. Administrative barriers have not disappeared either. Passenger rail transit across Russia is currently developing only in the form of tourist trips along the Trans-Siberian railway that involve excursions to see the sights along the way, and at the Passenger Forum held last April it was noted that the main obstacle to having more tourists on the Trans Siberian route is the tortuous and expensive procedure that foreigners have to go through to get a Russian visa. The Federal Passenger Company has no control over any of these factors.
"At the same time, if we look at the trend in the number of passengers carried by the Allegro trains that run between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki, it becomes clear that it is too early to throw in the towel just yet. The number of passengers carried by the Allegro trains is comparable to that carried by all Russian trains to destinations outside the former USSR. And it is not just that Finland has the same track gauge as Russia and thus the trains don't need to change the bogies when crossing the border, which saves time: the Russian Railways has actually put quite a lot of effort into developing its model international train," the expert says.
Mr. Safronov also noted that passengers are interested in the speed and price of train rides but different passengers have different priorities. More emphasis should be made on proper market segmentation based on travel destinations: for those destinations where people tend to be more affluent (Western Europe and China), efforts should be focused on reducing the time of travel and improving the quality of service, while for destinations in the former USSR, more options should be offered at different price points. The success of high speed rail demonstrates that there are plenty of passengers willing to pay more for speed and high quality rolling stock.
See more in the Gudok newspaper.